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Montreal’s Food Truck Industry May Be Losing Steam

Food truck operators say they need access to more spaces in the city

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Food trucks at Dorchester Square in 2015

Montreal’s auditor general Michele Galipeau is calling for changes to the city’s street food operating conditions, stating a lack of customer appeal in an industry that has yet to find a foothold, despite the mass excitement the trucks drew just a few years ago.

“As the fourth street food about to begin,” the auditor wrote earlier this year, “we find that the activity is on the wane.”

Galipeau recommends a simpler permit process for trucks, and that permit holders be registered with the city’s food inspection system.

This summer only three boroughs are offering food truck sites — Ville-Marie, Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie, and Outremont — whereas six boroughs took part last year. Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the Sud-Ouest, and Verdun are the three that dropped out this year. The reason: not enough customers.

“Because there’s a slowdown in the industry it’ll be a bit different this year.” says David Lefebvre, VP of Restaurants Canada, who also cites weather and construction as factors.

Food truck owners say that the sites where trucks can operate are not appealing in terms of visitor traffic and that current rules bar them from accessing some of the city’s prime locations for pedestrians — while some locations, like Dorchester Square downtown, work well for lunch crowds, other locations are on quiet side streets. Trucks must park in very specific areas, and the city also doesn’t allow food trucks within 50 metres of restaurants. In Toronto, the minimal distance is 30 metres, and trucks are freer to choose their own parking spots.

“We want greater access to parks, public places, private parking lots,” says Gaëlle Cerf, the co-owner of the Grumman 78 taco truck and the co-founder of Quebec’s food truck association. “At the moment we only have access to the street.” And even then, it’s limited.

Montreal has long had a rocky relationship with street food. It was only in 2013 — seeing that street food was gaining popularity in many of the major cities in the world — that the city lifted a 66-year-old ban on street food and entrusted the Ville-Marie borough with carrying out a pilot project at specific sites in its territory.

By March 2015 the municipal council adopted a by-law governing street food, which established a much wider variety of city-wide sites, allowing trucks to rotate between sites. (Note that some boroughs, such as the Plateau-Mont-Royal, have consistently avoided allowing food truck sites within their borders.) More trucks were allowed to hit the road at more sites, although the city instituted a panel that would pick and choose which food trucks merited a permit. Yet according to Cerf, since the program’s inception there have never been more applications than permits and spaces available.

This April, Montreal amended the bylaw, abolishing the committee that selected trucks, adding more flexibility in site selection and allocation — but some say the changes don’t go far enough. In a statement to Eater, a city representative said that food trucks are consider valuable to Montreal, and that the city analyzes the industry, and inparticular, the sites for food trucks each year in an attempt to choose attractive locations for truck owners and customers.

But Montreal’s rules on food trucks — including where they can park, and how they obtain permits — are generally far stricter than other cities in North America with street food scenes.

“When the municipal administration put in place the food truck program it was a little more than a pilot project,” says Lefebvre. “There is more room for discussion and improvement, maybe not for this year but the next.”

Cerf is also hopeful the situation will get better. “We feel that the administration is listening. It’s just that administrative processes are long, and it shows. That’s the problem.”

“We’re waiting— we’re waiting like everyone.”